I was ten years old when the first Star Wars movie, now known as A New Hope, was released. That movie was one of the greatest ever made, in my mind, as it unlocked creative potential within me like the opening of a mystic puzzle box. As a ten year old, I had no idea that you could actually create something like Star Wars out of nothing but imagination. I vaguely remember coming home after seeing it on the big screen and immediately sitting down to write my own story.
A few years later I was standing in line at the theater, waiting to watch The Empire Strikes Back. That line stretched around the building despite the movie having been out for three weeks; many in the line had already seen it and were heading back for repeat viewings. While standing in the line, I was sure that I was about to witness greatness, and I wasn’t disappointed. What George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan wrought exceeded my expectations in every way, and they would go on to do so again for my all-time favorite movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the ensuing years, as movies became judged on their ability to generate a sequel (and the more the merrier – for the studio anyway), I would learn that a sequel that exceeded the original movie was incredibly rare, and that sentiment applied to Return of the Jedi as well.
I was never a superfan of the Star Wars franchise. I found the movies entertaining, and inspiring on a creative level, but I did not live and breath Star Wars. I did not discuss various plot points. I did not dress up like Star Wars characters or consume licensing tie-ins like Star Wars comic books or action figures (although I did read Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye). In short, Star Wars existed in my life only as entertainment and as an inspiration for me to create my own stories, but not as something I cared enough to think about outside the experience of watching the movie.
Time marched on. As Episodes 1 through 3 were released, I relished the new experience. Except for Jar Jar, a too young Anakin who became whiny Anakin, and wooden performances by Natalie Portman, I was entertained by the prequels. Obi-wan Kenobi was the star of the prequels, and to me, Ewan McGregor did not disappoint. Like the original trilogy, however, Star Wars remained strictly in-movie entertainment, and I only cared about what was happening on the screen as it unfolded, not agonizing over whether Lucas had ruined the franchise or 1000 other things that people wanted to nitpick. I was aware of these sentiments, but did not care to waste my time discussing them. This has always been the difference between books and movies for me…I feel that written words are worth discussion, but movies exist purely for entertainment only, often times requiring you to check your brain at the door.
The Force Awakens changed my perception of the franchise moving forward, and not in a good way. Where each of the prequel movies had featured an original plot (which most agree was not good), The Force Awakens was basically a reboot of A New Hope. It was too familiar, an homage to the original, a tip of the cap to Star Wars superfans. It was like watching the first movie all over again, and it managed to do something the prequels had not: it pissed me off. If I want to watch the first movie again, I can do so thanks to the magic of DVDs and digital content, which weren’t around in the 1970s. I had a bad feeling about this new series when J.J. Abrams was brought in to take over, because he had recently rebooted the Star Trek franchise, so I should have known The Force Awakens would follow suit. I held out hope when I saw Lawrence Kasdan’s name attached to the script, but it seems that without Lucas, Kasdan’s talents were wasted. The Force Awakens wasn’t a bad movie, it was simply a feeling of deja vu – that I had seen it all before. Where was the creativity, the uniqueness?
I recently watched The Last Jedi in 4K, having avoided it in the theaters, and in my opinion, the current series has gone from bad to worse. Thinking back to just how amazing of a sequel The Empire Strikes Back was, The Last Jedi falls far short for me. For as much accolades as Rian Johnson has received, I disagreed and simply saw more of the same rebooting of the original trilogy. From Ridley’s training with Luke mirroring Luke’s training with Yoda, a trip to a casino which felt a lot like a combination of the Cantina and Jabba’s hideout scenes, and AT-AT Walkers advancing on a rebel stronghold, there’s just too much of that deja vu feeling persisting. And that’s not even considering the gaping plot holes or the “Mary Poppins” scene, which, again, I have no wish to waste my time discussing.
Rogue One was a breath of fresh air. It showed how good a Star Wars movie can be with an original story, and it tied in beautifully to A New Hope. Maybe the upcoming Solo will follow the path of Rogue One and treat us to something we haven’t seen before. If so, I will be looking forward to any future Star Wars movie subtitled “A Star Wars Story”, and wary of anything that’s an “Episode”, especially now that Abrams has jumped back in to take control of the next script. Disney has had a pretty successful run with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m not sure they will solve the problems that currently plague Star Wars, because it is too much of a cash cow for them to do anything except play it safe with more of the same.